"But the hushing of the criticism of honest opponents is a dangerous thing. It leads some of the best of the critics to unfortunate silence and paralysis of effort, and others to burst into speech so passionately and intemperately as to lose listeners. Honest and earnest criticism from those whose interests are most nearly touched,—criticism of writers by readers, of government by those governed, of leaders by those led, — this is the soul of democracy and the safeguard of modern society."


 W. E. B. DuBois, 
The Souls of Black Folk (Chicago, 1903)


The mission of the Political Theory Project (PTP) is to investigate the ideas and institutions that make societies free, prosperous, and fair. The PTP pursues this mission within the broad research paradigm of what we call “market democracy.”

Economic historian, Deirdre McCloskey refers to the enlightenment period as “The Great Enrichment,” as the rise of democratic ideas and institutions coincided with a dramatic increase in personal freedom and economic prosperity. The question of how market economies interact with democratic ideals is at the heart of the PTP’s research mission.

The market democratic paradigm has five main components, all of which are tightly integrated. The main components of market democracy include: a participatory ideal of inclusion, democratic governance, market economies, the rule of law, and freedom of expression.

First, market democracies are fundamentally committed to a participatory ideal of inclusion.  According to this ideal, the voice and well being of each person matters, and matters equally. The PTP has a special interest in institutions and norms that have a proven record of creating a more participatory and inclusive society.

Second, as the name “market democracy” implies, market democracies are committed to both democratic governance and market economies. By democratic, we mean a community of free individuals who jointly determine the rules and institutions that are to guide them. By market economies, we mean that the economic sectors of production are grounded upon private property rights and contractual freedom. Working together, these institutions create social conditions in which citizens can trade, create social wealth, and pursue their own conception(s) of the good life in a stable and inclusive environment.

Next, market democracies are committed to the rule of law. This includes the idea that individuals must be accorded equal treatment as free individuals. Market democracies, in their various ways, see individuals as holding strong claims of personal liberty, or as philosopher John Rawls has termed them “spheres of inviolability”. Among these liberties are freedom of the person, freedom of association, economic liberty, and freedom of inquiry and expression.

This last right, freedom of expression, plays a special role within the research approach of the PTP, as it has within real market democratic regimes throughout history. At the PTP, we aim to foster a culture of critical engagement and scientific contestation. Like technologies, ideas improve through contact with new and even competitive ideas. We bring together dynamic, self-directing scholars to study aspects of market democracy through a variety of disciplinary, methodological, and ideological lenses.

Research questions of the PTP include:

What are the ideas and institutions that make societies more free, prosperous, and fair?

What causal explanations account for the historical co-development of advanced market economies and inclusive democratic polities?

How do market economies and democratic governments interact and shape social outcomes?

How significantly are contemporary distributions of wealth shaped by historical injustice?

Can emerging economies develop in ways that are just, equitable, and ecologically sustainable?

Can economic science inform our understandings of politics and governance?

What are the moral implications of trade and global economic growth?

How do the findings of social science and institutional operations shape our moral theories of governance and politics?

What are the moral and practical limitations of democracies and markets?